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Archive for the ‘foraging’ Category

Wineberries!

About two weeks ago my friend Anna, who lives in Western Virginia, posted this on her Facebook status:

“Dear wineberries:  I love you, I love you, I love you.  I wish I bought more of you.”

Now I had never heard of a wineberry, so I asked her what on earth they were.   She pointed me to a Wikipedia entry about them, and my response was:  “Oh, you mean that big thicket of mysterious berries that are growing the in middle of my yard?”

Turns out, I had wineberries right under my nose and had no idea.  It seems that lots of people mistake them for wild raspberries, though they actually aren’t native.  Have you seen these growing and thought they were raspberries?

You aren’t alone!  Apparently they are native to China, Japan, and Korea and were imported as a fruit/ornamental crop and, like many imported things, turned feral.  It certainly grows vigorously in our little patch, and in parts of Virginia is runs entirely rampant.

I’ve been watching these little fellas grow for a while, as they start life wrapped tightly in a tiny, hairy husk and they only open when they are just about ripe.  Quite unusual and striking.  They also have a slightly sticky sap on them, which actually helps when you are picking them, but builds up on your fingers.  It is very easy to wipe off, though.

Here’s a just-opening bunch:

Held side by side to a conventional raspberry, they really do look quite different.  They have  a squat, domed shape to them unlike the pointed tip of a raspberry.  I was going to take a picture of them next to each other, but by the time I walked over to my camera with the three raspberries I was able to dig out of the thick foliage, they had somehow fallen into my mouth.  Whoops!

The most striking difference is the color.  Where raspberries are dull and opaque, wineberries practically sparkle.  They look like rubies.  This picture was taken at dusk with a heavily clouded sky, and you can still see how gloriously they shine:

And of course, they taste amazing.  I think I like them more than raspberries.  They have a more subtle flavor- on the sweet side, but you can pick them a little early for tartness.  They are amazingly juicy.  Eating a handful of them is like taking a sip of water.  They dissolve in your mouth leaving behind a lingering sweetness that can’t be beat.

I’m having a love affair with these berries- I think they may have replaced blackberries in my heart.  You may already be eating them in your own yard (or know of a patch on the side of the road), but if you aren’t, they are probably worth cultivating.  I know now that I can never live without these berries again!  From what I can tell they have no pests, no diseases, and no drawbacks (if you can keep on top of their natural ramblyness).  Oh, and they are heavy producers.

I love my farm!

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Berries, berries, berries.  In other words:  BEST HARVEST EVER!   The cultivated blueberries are ripening, the black raspberries are in full gear, and I am in heaven.  I adore berries.  They are my favorite fruits.  And I buy them exactly never, because I cannot believe how expensive they are (and they are usually gross from the supermarket anyway).  I’ve been going out ever day and harvesting the berries as they ripen.  We don’t have a lot, especially since the blueberries are only starting, so I’ve been freezing my daily harvests until I have enough to make some jam.  At the moment I’ve probably picked about 2 pints. 

Most days I forget to bring a vessel out to the garden with me (as I’m usually running into the garden the moment I get out of my car) so lots of my shirts have berry stains on them now.  Oh well!

I did a lot of weeding last week (though not nearly enough…sigh) so I actually got a nice veggie harvest when I cleared a big patch of Purslane from the base of my watermelon plants.   Wait?  Purslane?  That vigorous weed?   Yup- if you haven’t tried Purslane already, you really should.  I think it is quite tasty, and I hate most greens, and on top of that it is CRAZY good for you.  And it makes weeding a little more fun.   Toss it into a salad, soup, or stir-fry. 

I think Purslane is a particularly beautiful plant- that shimmer isn’t a trick of the light.  The succulent leaves literally sparkle. 

Want to share your harvests?  Go see Daphne!

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First, the ethics.

So just say that there is a stand of magnificent, overburdened raspberry canes about 300 yards from your house.  Say these raspberry canes are behind a stone wall in an obviously disused and abandoned farm, complete with derelict heavy garden equipments and the skeleton of a greenhouse.  Say these raspberries have been picked by no-one.

Say the only way in is guarded by a big old “NO TRESPASSING” sign hung across the only entrance.  What do you do?

While you ponder this, let me thank the raspberry gods for the sprawling nature of their lovely plants, and the builders of the stone wall, who made it low enough for several canes to hang over.

There were more, but 300 yards is a long way to go with these beauties winking at me.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, OUR raspberries (of the black variety) are just starting to trickle in, and I picked the first outliers of the blueberries.  Ok, maybe not the first, because those 7 or 8 got eaten right at the bush this weekend.  Truly, I’m impressed these stayed alive long enough to be photographed.

Asparagus is still growing, though it is certainly slowing down.  We’ll only get a few more harvests out of it this year.  It has taught me one thing, though.  The MOMENT I settle down in a place I know I’m going to be for a while, it will be the first thing I plant.

Want to show off your harvests?  Go visit Daphne!

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On citrus

We just got back from a 4 day Thanksgiving trip to the lovely Alabama Gulf Coast (“what are you thankful for, Taylor?”  “WARMTH!”  It was 70 degrees every day…bliss!) with family and friends, and I feel incredibly rested. 

I’m also feeling a surge of vigor from the copious amounts of vitamin C I ingested this weekend.  When we pulled into the driveway of the bay house that my parents rented, the most beautiful sight met my eyes:  citrus trees.   The neighbors had several trees that were absolutely laden with grapefruits, lemons, kumquats, and- most lovely of all- satsumas.  If you haven’t ever had a satsuma, it’s your loss.  They are similar to tangerines or clementines, but very sweet.  The peel in an instant and are juicy beyond belief.  It’s funny that I came down to Alabama for Thanksgiving and what am I most excited about?  Not my mom’s signature cornbread dressing or pecan pies or a giant roasted free-range Alabama turkey, but satsumas.

They were especially welcome because about a week ago I was standing in Whole Foods gazing mournfully at a mound of Florida Clementines wanting nothing more than to eat my body-weight in citrus.  I couldn’t justify eating something that came from 1500 miles away (which is especially silly since I bought a bag of Florida-grown pearl onions two weeks ago), and my fast of non-local fruits is going very, very strong.  So far I haven’t broken it yet since this spring when I came to my senses and vowed to eat local.  I haven’t had a banana since February!  DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MUCH I MISS BANANAS? 

 I’m not sure why I have imposed such selective rules on myself, especially since the same day I bought those Florida onions I also bought gulf-coast shrimp (at least it wasn’t Indonesian!), but I feel easier about justfiying stuff that I know Pete will be eating as well.   Regardless of my odd limits, fruit hasn’t been justified into my kitchen yet, so I found myself without Satsumas at the time when I wanted them most.

I think you’ll understand why I ran to my mom standing under the Satsuma tree and hugged it before I hugged her. (Love you, Mom!)  I think you’ll also understand why our luggage was filled to overflowing with every fruit I could cram in there when we came home.   And why when the lady at the airport security check looked askance at Pete and said “what are those…tennis balls?” I hollered joyfully “THEY’RE LEMONS!  AND SATSUMAS!  AND GRAPEFRUIT!”

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Eating History

Pete and I are lucky enough to have a friend who lives as the on-site caretaker of a small 17th century historic site.  It’s amazingly beautiful and so well-kept.  From the way it is situated next to the road, there are many times that you can’t see a single modern intrusion in your view.  I had only been there a couple of times before, both in the dead of winter, so I didn’t really have a chance to appreciate the agriculture of the area. 

 We spent the weekend there, camping out Saturday night, with several of our friends.  I was thrilled when we first got there to discover two enormous apple trees so laden with un-picked fruit that the top limbs were groaning and the floor beneath the tree was a literal carpetof freshly-fallen to mostly-decayed apples.  I asked if I could pick some and he said sure- better than them going to waste.  They were very un-promising looking with a blotchy greenish-brown hue and only a slight blush of red.  Most of them looked like they were wormy or worse, but I picked one anyway.  Once the peel came off they were the most lovely apples.  A fine, creamy white appearance and the perfect mix of tart and sweet with a crisp bite.  And they were so big I could hardly finish one.  We came home with two grocery bags full.  I wish I had picked more.

They also have a small, historic demonstration garden with a good representation of common 17th-century vegetables and herbs.  It was really beautifully laid out and surprisingly prolific for the small size.  There were a lot of things I didn’t recognize (like hops!  It’s a lovely vine.) and some old favorites (mmm…cowpeas…) and the head gardener let me pick a few things to take home with us.  We got three large turnips, a few carrots, three beets, a big handful of the healthiest chives I have ever seen, several sprigs of sage, a bottle gourd, and about 45 Egyptian Onion sets.  And every one of them an heirloom variety, though sadly I don’t know which ones (except the carrots- DanversHalf-Longs). We even got a few quinces, which I haven’t the slightest idea what to do with.  Can you just eat them?  What do they taste like? 

We also came away with an invite to the KillingtonBeer Festival in Vermont in October withanother couple.  Local beer?  Maple syrup?  Vermont in early October?  Oh, I am SO there!  Not bad for a weekend with friends, huh?

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Muscadines

I’m completely enamored with the idea of foraging.  The idea of finding something growing wild that is edible (and often so delicious!) seems like the most basic of human functions.  The idea of nature’s bounty right there without any effort on the part of a person is magical to me.  You know, that food  will actually grow in the wild.  What a thought, huh?

Enamored, yes.  Experienced?  Absolutely not.  My foraging has thus far been limited to what grew wild in the Alabama woods that I grew up in.  I wasn’t terribly involved in my food chain growing up and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t pay much attention to what my parents were doing to feed me.  We had a garden, yes, and a small orchard and a handful of chickens, but I never really considered them.  So when we walked down to the pond to pick gallons of wild blackberries I was naturally delighted, but never thought about how awesome it was that they just grew here out of nowhere. 

Blackberries and muscadines are the only things that I can remember eating from the wild (though there were doubtless other things- care to chime in Daddy?), but boy-howdy to I remember them.  I still pine for blackberries and when I found a few stunted bushes growing in the woods around Pete’s parent’s house, I yelped with delight.  The berries were minuscule and in really bad shape, but I still ate a few and loved them. 

Now muscadines (or scuppernongs as they are accurately called in the south) are wild grape that grow all over the Eastern US (and I’m sure in other places- I just don’t know for sure).  They are grape-like, but almost impossible to describe the taste or texture.  I occasionally remember seeing them in the grocery stores down south, but they were outrageously expensive so I avoided them.  I always liked them, but never thought much about them.  They were there…great. 

But on Thursday afternoon, Pete and I drove down to our CSA to pick up some eggs and as we passed a row of cranberry bogs, I was hit square in the nose by the scent of ripe muscadines.  There are very few things in the world that have such a distinctive and powerful scent as that.  I instinctively screamed “STOP!” and Pete slammed on the brakes and immediately dropped dead right there of a heart attack.  Once he was revived, we pulled the truck off the road and walked around the banks of the bog, letting our noses guide us to the source of the sweet smell. 

We saw them shortly after- small clusters of dark blue/purple berries.  What I was used to were the clusters of large, bright green grapes, but the scent and taste assured me that they were very similar to what I had known as a child.  The vines were difficult to reach and the fruits were few and stunted (I’m guessing because of our recent month of no rain), but they were sweet and ripe.  I ate a handful or so and we took home a few hand fulls more- all we could reach easily.  Pete only ate 2 or 3- not having the connection of childhood adventures to make them more delicious.

It wasn’t five minutes later that I turned to Pete and said, “ummmm…does your mouth feel weird?”  His didn’t, but he sure did give me an odd look.  I tried to ignore it, but my mouth and throat were feeling a very strange combination of tingly, itcy, and numb.  It wasn’t long before I started to get nervous.  “Really,” I asked him, “nothing?”  “No honey.  My mouth feels fine.  You’re sure those were muscadines.”  I WAS sure, but I couldn’t deny the odd feeling.

We were home in 5 minutes and before the truck even stopped moving I had bounded up the walkway to my phone to call my dad.  “OH MY GOD DADDY I THINK I ATE POISON GRAPES!”  I screamed at him when he answered the phone.  He calmly informed me that there were no poison species of grapes, was I sure that was what I had eaten?  I told him I was almost certain (grapes are hard to miss, you know, with their distinctive leaves and fruit clusters), but that my mouth felt so weird that it was freaking me out.  Pete was pacing behind me at this point muttering “She’s killed me!  She’s fed me poison grapes and killed me!” which wasn’t really helping.  My mother asked the appropriate question of whether or not I was having trouble breathing or felt weird in any other way besides a tingly/itchy mouth.   Of course I wasn’t, so her suggestion was that I was having some kind of mild allergic reaction. 

The tingles were gone in about 15 minutes, and I realized that in fact, I had eaten perfectly safe muscadines and was having some sort of minor allergic reaction to them, and I didn’t die or even get sick at all. 

The bag of muscadines sat on the counter until we finally just threw them away yesterday, nary a one eaten. 

Foraging attempt #1:  FAIL!

I won’t give up, though!  And I’ll even try muscadines again if the opportunity presents itself.

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